Friday, May 14, 2004

The People Strike Back - Episode II

It's nice to have some good news to talk about! It isn't big news in the US for some reason, but the odious BJP has been voted out of power in India. This is being billed as a surprise upset, apparently nobody saw it coming. I mean, the pundits knew that 230 million registered voters were living on less than a dollar a day in spite of India's "miraculous economic growth." What they couldn't imagine was that poor farmers would actually throw out a government that used religious bigotry to manipulate the masses while screwing them over in favor of the wealthy minority. I hope working class Americans will be as smart. Indians might be a little more clearheaded, often living in villages with no electricity, so they have no TV disinformation to confuse them.

On a heavier note, I'm tired of hearing about how the torturers at Abu Ghraib "don't represent America." It's like people don't want to admit Americans are just like everybody else . . . Psychologist Philip Zimbargo did some disturbing experiments in the 1970s, randomly assigning volunteers to act as prison guards and prisoners in a two week role play study. Volunteers were screened to eliminate anyone with psychological problems, drug problems or a criminal history. These were normal, healthy, intelligent middle class men. Nevertheless, the experiment had to be stopped within a few days because "the guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress." Yes, the "prisoners" were stripped naked and abused, etc . . . this isn't exceptional, this is what human beings are like without training and supervision. Americans are no better than anyone else, we just have a better system. With the understanding that people can't be trusted with unlimited power over others, the Founders set up a system of checks and balances. When you have an adnimistration that claims it can detain people with not legal rights and no judicial oversight, based on no evidence, hold them outside the Geneva Conventions, and assign truck drivers to be prison guards - what do you expect will happen? I expect we will here that something similar has happened almost anywhere people are being detained without rights or legal oversight. You can't trust people with that kind of power. Some American conservatives like to believe that legal oversight isn't necessary if you have a culture that teaches moral values ad nauseum . . . but it doesn't work like that. Power corrupts - period.

The Toledo Blade did an extraordinary series last year on a string of US war crimes in Vietnam committed by an elite group known as Tiger Force. It's interesting as a comparison with today's top stories, and also because it substantially confirms John Kerry's statements about US war crimes to Congress in 1971. If you are one the people who believe he was eggagerating to make a political point, I dare you to read the Blade series.

Speaking of atrocities, I actually think some good may come of the horrific killing of Nick Berg by Abu Musab Zarqawi. Parts of the infamous video were shown on Arab sattelite TV, and it is viewed as so shocking that it is being widely condemned throughout the Muslim world, both by mainstream religious scholars and by radicals. Juan Cole reports that even Hezbollah has condemned "this horrible act which does an immense wrong to Islam and Muslims by a group which falsely pretends to follow the precepts of the religion of pardon and essential human values." Coming on the heels of Zarquawi's appeals for fighters to come to Iraq and battle "infidels and Shiites" after Sunni and Shiite insurgents began fighting side by side, it looks like Zarqawi's well on his way to marginalizing himself even among the Iraqi resistance. This is a good sign - if they hate us but hate al Queada too, we could always call it a draw and leave.
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